I’ve been wondering what to devote my writing hours to besides the articles and essays that put food on the table. The nonfiction book proposal I’ve written and rewritten hasn’t come together in the way I had imagined. The sample chapters are nothing that any reader would appreciate. Fifty pages into the book I knew something was wrong, but I continued writing. By the time I reached 150 pages, a sagging disbelief in my ability to communicate something meaningful gnawed at my soul. I decided to not write for a while. I would lay fallow. Take a vacation. Go visit family and friends. Let my thoughts bubble up and float away like helium balloons instead of jotting them down in my notebook.
Only one week passed without writing before something miraculous happened.
On the drive through the desert, I passed the location of the beginning of my crime novel and felt a jolt of joy and enthusiasm I hadn’t felt in months. When I wrote that book I knew it was only a draft and not a very good one at that, but I had been content to hole up in my office tapping away for every moment I could steal until the story was done. My husband warned me to hurry up and finish before I became too lost in the imaginary world I created and lost my job, my children, my family, and my friends. I wrote about the entire experience in “Surviving the Zone” which is currently under consideration. If I had been at a writer’s retreat, I could have indulged my obsession and polished off the book in two weeks. But I had other responsibilities that interfered. People who didn’t know what I was working on commented that I seemed distracted. Of course, I was. I was living in two worlds, not sure which one would pull me under and claim me first.
Passing the scene of the crime reawakened me. Why am I writing a nonfiction book? I asked. I’m a novelist. I should be writing novels.
That’s when I decided to return to the crime novel that held me captive for so long. If it possessed that type of power for me as a writer, what type of power would it possess for a reader? How selfish I had been to shelf the draft and never look at it again. No matter how disappointed I was with the imperfections, everything could be fixed. Fact-checking, plot structure, and characterizations should not be an excuse to deny the heart of the story, which pulsed with as much life as an actual event I had lived through and needed to share.
All of my fears melted as soon as I returned home and unburied the manuscript from underneath my desk and started reading. The chapters flew by effortlessly. It didn’t read like something I had written. It read like a good book I could not put down.
So this is how I will be spending my summer: returning to the zone.